This traditional Portuguese soup is easy, nourishing, and surprisingly delicious.
Thai Chicken Soup with Coconut Milk
Dietary Compliance: Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Almost-Paleo, Paleo
This soup may not be much to look at – it’s a bit monochrome; but if you know Tom Kha Gai, you know that the taste is kaleidoscopic. Sweet and creamy with coconut milk, sour and aromatic with lime and lemongrass, spicy with fiery red chilies, and all brought to harmony by the salty base note of fish sauce. This one’s super easy to make at home and comes together in a flash for an easy, soul-brightening weeknight meal.
Tom Kha Gai (or Thai Chicken Soup with Coconut Milk) uses some authentic Thai ingredients, which may be bad news for those of us living in little landlocked towns. The good news is that there are substitutions for these ingredients that can be found in any grocery store. And the even better news is that I have made this soup with both authentic Thai ingredients (like lime leaves) and with common substitutions (like lime zest) with little compromise in flavor. That’s rare in the world of recipes, but I feel it’s true in this case.
A Few Tom Kha Gai Making Tips:
- The key to this soup, as in many Thai recipes, lies in striking the right balance between sweet, sour, spicy, and salty flavors. That balance is one of the crowning principles of Thai cuisine, and there’s no other way to reach it than to taste, taste, taste. Tweak it with a bit of extra fish sauce for salt, an extra squeeze of lime for sour, an extra pinch of sugar for sweet, or an extra hit of chilies for spice. Taste and tweak repeatedly until you find yourself wanting to taste again and again and again. That means it’s done : )
- Shrimp is a delicious alternative to chicken in this soup, but add them towards the end of cooking, so they don’t get overcooked.
- A note regarding spice: when cooking for kids simply omit the chili paste until you’ve ladled out the soup, and stir it into each bowl as desired. Sriracha has a major cult following, but if you haven’t tried it, you may enjoy the more multi-dimensional flavor of Sambal Oelek. I know I do.
Here’s some info about the thyroid-friendly nutrients in this dish:
- Coconut products such as coconut milk contain healthy fats, which can aid in hormone balance. Consumption of healthy fats is commonly recommended for those with thyroid issues for this reason. A word of caution: many canned foods are contaminated with BPA, which is absorbed from the plastic lining of the can. To avoid the hormonal disruption that can occur from ingesting BPA, purchase coconut milk in cans that are labeled “BPA-free”.
- The powerful anti-inflammatory properties of ginger can help relieve the inflammation often associated with thyroid disease.
- Selenium is a nutrient important to the production and regulation of thyroid hormones, and mushrooms happen to be one of the top 10 foods highest in selenium. Just one cremini mushroom provides 7% DV of selenium. I suggest using creminis in this soup because the selenium content is higher than that of button mushrooms.
- Cilantro is a detoxifying herb and helps rid the body of heavy metals like mercury. Heavy metal toxicity is among the leading causes of thyroid disease. So load up on that garnish – it’s delicious and good for your health.
Thai Chicken Soup with Coconut Milk
This flavorful soup doesn't require a long cooking time and comes together quickly for an easy weeknight meal. Dietary Compliance: Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Almost-Paleo, Paleo.
- 2 lemongrass, stalks or 2 tbsp. prepared lemongrass paste (sometimes available in the produce section, refrigerated), or zest of 1 lemon
- 4 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade
- 1 lb chicken breast, boneless, skinless, thinly sliced
- 1/2 onion, yellow, thinly sliced into 1-inch-long pieces
- 2 cups crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 5 lime leaves, roughly torn, or zest of 1 lime
- 1 [3-inch] piece galangal or fresh ginger root, cut into coins
- 2 large roma tomatoes
- 14 oz can coconut milk , full fat
- 2-4 tbsp. lime juice, fresh squeezed, from 1 to 2 limes, or to taste
- 2-3 tbsp. fish sauce**, (see note) or to taste
- sambal oelek, sriracha, or hot sauce, to taste
- 1 tsp. coconut sugar, packed
- 2/3 cup cilantro, fresh, chopped
- 1/4 cup green onion, thinly sliced
- If using fresh lemon grass, cut lower half of stalk into 1-inch pieces, and discard tops.
- In a large (5 quart) pot bring chicken broth to a boil. Add lemongrass, chicken breast, onion, mushrooms, and lime leaves and galangal or ginger coins. If substituting lemon and/or lime zest, do not add yet . Reduce heat and let simmer 5 – 7 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.
To peel and seed the tomatoes: use a small paring knife to remove the stem from the tomatoes, and then cut an X in the skin on the opposite end of the tomatoes. Add to broth and let simmer 1 minute, or until skins have begun to split and peel away. Remove from broth and let rest until cool enough to handle. Remove skin (it should pull away easily). Cut in half and remove and discard seeds. Dice the tomato flesh into 1/4 inch cubes, and add back to soup.
Reduce heat to medium. Add coconut milk, lime juice, fish sauce, chili paste or hot sauce, and coconut sugar to soup. If substituting lemon and/or lime zest, add now. Stir to combine until soup is heated through* (see note). Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more fish sauce, lime juice, coconut sugar, or chilies as needed to reach the perfect salty/sour/sweet/spicy balance. Ladle into bowls. Garnish with fresh cilantro and green onion, and serve.
*Do not boil the soup once coconut milk is added. A low, brief simmer is fine, but boiling can separate the coconut milk, similar to heavy cream.
** Fish sauce is commonly available in the Asian section of most grocery stores, but if you need to substitute, use 1 tablespoon anchovy paste and 2–3 tablespoons tamari (GF soy sauce). Including tamari would reduce the dietary compliance of this recipe to gluten and dairy-free.